“You have two friends in the White House,” Vice President Mike Pence told a sold-out crowd at the annual National Rifle Association’s Leadership Conference Friday in Dallas, and the audience responded with a roaring applause.
Pence’s remarks were the appetizer to President Donald Trump’s main course comments that were both entertaining and, to the audience of boisterous NRA members, energizing. When the president told the crowd, “Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never be under siege a long as I am president,” the reaction was like the cheer of a home team crowd whose star player just knocked the winning run out of the park.
It was the first time in NRA history that both a president and vice president had appeared on the same stage. Their remarks may have seemed pure boilerplate to some, but to this crowd, hearing promises from the chief executive rather than calls for more incremental infringements on the right to keep and bear arm never gets stale.
Pence told the crowd that this is “a pivotal year in America.” He urged NRA members to fight and “carry freedom forward.” And in the end, he reminded the audience to tell politicians that, “the forgotten man and woman are forgotten no more.”
When Trump took the stage, NRA members were primed, and he delivered.
The president made points by noting that Democrats want to outlaw guns, so they should also ban trucks and vans, which have been used in recent fatal attacks in New York and Toronto. He argued that the slaughter in Paris by terrorists three years ago might have been different had someone in the crowd been armed.
He also pointed out that in London, people are being fatally stabbed.
The message was clear: Armed people can fight back, but unarmed people are victims.
Trump moved through several topics, telling the crowd that illegal immigration must end and that the border wall will be completed. He announced new economic information about low unemployment figures. He thanked entertainer Kanye West for support, suggesting that it has helped boost his popularity among African-Americans.
Both Trump and Pence pressed NRA members to vote in the midterm elections this fall to protect the Republican majority in Congress, and thus protect their rights from being eroded. Their rock star reception was a clear contrast to the way NRA members felt the previous administration had treated them.
The NRA convention continues through the weekend, with the annual members’ meeting Saturday morning and exhibits featuring “acres of guns and gear” in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.